Annapolis Symphony Orchestra
José-Luis Novo, conductor
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was an English composer, the illegitimate son of a British mother and a father who was a doctor and a native of Sierra Leone. Coleridge-Taylor had a meteoric career, cut short by pneumonia. He entered the Royal College of Music at 15 and had his first music published at 17. In England, his cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, ranked just below Messiah and Elijah in popularity with English choral aficionados early in the twentieth century. He composed two Hiawatha sequels to form a choral trilogy.
Coleridge-Taylor was, in addition, an excellent and exacting conductor, the permanent conductor of the Handel Society from 1904 until his death. In 1910, New York orchestral players referred to him as the “black Mahler.”
The Novelletten could be called high-quality salon music, a genre popular before World War I, when musical soirees in private homes were all the rage. The term Novellette was coined by Robert Schumann to describe the narrative quality of music work. Interestingly, Schumann was creating an elegant pun, bearing on the relationship of the new term to the literary “novel,” and “novelty,” as well as to the name of the English soprano Clara Novello. Coleridge-Taylor extended the punning by publishing the Novelletten with the publisher Novello.
The Novelletten was composed in 1903 for violin and piano and in an alternate version for string orchestra with tambourine and triangle. The unusual addition of tambourine and triangle to the classic string orchestra renders the pieces effectively eclectic, especially since Coleridge-Taylor didn’t overuse the percussion.